Thursday, May 8, 2014

We Welcome Dr. White to District 181 -- Our Hope Is That Under His Leadership D181 Will Come Back Into The Light.

As we previously reported, last Friday the Board of Education unanimously approved Dr. Don White as the next D181 Superintendent.  On behalf of the authors of this blog and its loyal readers, we would like to welcome him.  The purpose of this post is twofold:

First, we are providing links to his resume, contract, press releases and other information we have gathered on Dr. White's background and qualifications so that they are readily available in one place. We want to thank our readers for providing some of the links via comment.

Second, we are going to point out indicators that have given us hope that with his hire, D181 will turn a corner away from some of its darkest days in recent history and into the sunshine of transparency, accountability and a new tomorrow.  Based upon what we have researched in the last week, we believe that under Dr. White's leadership,  the potential exists for D181 to resume its place as a beacon of excellence in education for all of our students. We hope that we are not proven wrong.

Click on the following links to open:

In reading through all readily available information on Dr. White, we were impressed with three things:

Dr. White appears to be committed to being TRANSPARENT:
The information he regularly provides the Troy District 30C's community is impressive and we hope that he will provide the D181 community with the same sources of information.  In particular we watched (listened to, really) the You Tube Videos -- called Board Briefs -- for a number of board meetings in his current district. He personally explained -- in advance of each board meeting -- each agenda item.  We also noted that the Meeting Agendas actually published the names of personnel who were listed as "Action Items" for a vote on any number of matters  (hires, resignations, etc.).  We hope Dr. White continues this practice of making a YOU TUBE video in advance of each D181 board meeting explaining the agenda items, as well as OPENING UP the personnel consent agendas.  

For those of you who have followed D181's board history, years ago the practice was to publish the personnel matters being voted on (including names) with the agenda PRIOR to the meeting, but 6 or 7 years ago, the BOE stopped doing this.  Instead, the personnel matters were not published for the community to learn what the board was voting on via "consent agenda" until AFTER the meeting.  It is time the D181 Board of Education returned to the past practice of being fully transparent about all matters it is voting on.

The absurdity of the BOE keeping personnel matters that it is taking a public vote on secret until AFTER the vote, was most clearly evidenced last Friday.
Everyone knew (having received an Email blast) that the sole purpose of the May 2 Special Board Meeting was for the BOE  to announce and approve the new superintendent.  Yet rather than immediately introduce him and state that the board was going to vote to approve Dr. White as the new superintendent, the BOE once again chose to play it close to the vest.  President Turek brought a motion to approve the consent agenda as presented, never once stating that what the board was about to vote on was the approval of the new superintendent and that his name was Dr. Don White.  We have spoken to people who were in attendance at the meeting, who said the board looked ridiculous in keeping the "secret" until AFTER the unanimous vote.  Our hope is that Dr. White will quickly put an end to such non-transparent behavior and turn the light of transparency back on regarding ALL public board business, just as he currently does in Troy 30C.

Dr. White's Current District Employs a Different Educational Model than the Learning For All Plan.  Troy 30C Has A Self-Contained Program for Accelerated Learners.

Troy District 30C, Dr. White's current district where he has been the superintendent for 7 years, has a very different "model" of instruction for its advanced learners than is currently being rolled out through D181's Learning For All model.  We encourage all of our readers to read Troy 30C's "Comprehensive Plan for Accelerated Programs of Education" that can be found at

This Plan was revised less than 2 years ago in August 2012.  In our opinion, the excerpts we have published below from the comprehensive report establish that under Dr. White's current superintendency, he recognizes the importance of providing instruction that meets each child's needs, but not with a "one size fits all," accelerated for all approach.  We will not elaborate further on this, other than to point out that as the educational leader for a district similar in size to D181's, the instructional model Dr. White has endorsed is not consistent with D181's Learning for All Plan (in which currently all students are "accelerated" in math starting in 3rd grade and tiers have been eliminated, and where students, regardless of ability, can opt in to higher level math, language arts and social studies classes in middle school and remain in those classes if they simply achieve a 70%).

We hope that one of the first actions Dr. White takes is to closely examine the Learning For All Plan under the philosophy and beliefs he followed and implemented in Troy 30C over the last 7 years, and make changes to the D181 program that are in line with the one outlined in Troy 30C's "Comprehensive Plan."

In our opinion, an experienced, seasoned and previously successful educational leader's philosophies on instruction and meeting the individual needs of students should not change overnight simply because he/she moves into a new district.  Clearly, the Comprehensive Plan Dr. White implemented in Troy 30C was carefully thought out, as is evidenced by its detailed explanations and analysis.  At the April 28 Board Meeting, Member Clarin declared that the Learning For All Plan is here to stay.  If Dr. White plans to follow this directive, we hope he will provide a public explanation to the entire D181 community, parents, students and staff on how he can justify discarding his previous instructional philosophy as was implemented in Troy 30C's Acceleration Model, and now embrace a completely different approach.

We hope that he will not have to do so; rather that he will work with the D181 community to determine what has and has not worked under the Learning For All Plan and make appropriate changes that are in line with the instructional philosophy and model he followed and implemented in Troy 30C.

Excerpts from the "Comprehensive Plan for Accelerated Programs of Education":

"Troy School District 30-C is committed to providing a range of educational programs that meet the different learning needs of all of our students. Children who exhibit exceptionally strong intellectual abilities and/or the potential to perform significantly beyond the standard curriculum, require differentiated curriculum and instruction." (Page 3)

"In order to achieve academic excellence, a one-size-fits-all/lock-step educational system is neither possible nor equitable. Academic readiness differences exist among our students. It is not fair to students or effective instructional practice to disregard this fact and treat all students’ educational needs in the same manner."  (Page 4)

"According to Joyce Van Tassel Baska (1997), "Excellence for all, if it means the same standards, same curriculum, same instructional emphases, becomes inequitable for all since it fails to recognize individual differences."" (Page 4)

"This is echoed in the philosophy of the Northwest Evaluation Association (2004), developer of Measures of Academic Progress. "Historically, school districts have used a student's age (grade level) as the primary criterion for selecting instructional materials and lessons. We believe that a student's current achievement level should be the dominant consideration when grouping for instruction, selecting materials, and providing instruction" (page 1-1)." (Page 4)

"Therefore, if all students are to learn something new every day, high ability students need a school system that provides alternative curriculum as part of their academic experience. Accelerated programs in the Troy School District aim to allow exposure to challenging curriculum and instructional practices at an appropriate pace. According to Camilla Persson Benbow, acceleration is defined as the decision to regard academic competence, rather than age, as the key criterion to match a student with particular curricula or academic experiences. Simply defined, acceleration is the established match between level, complexity, and pace of the curriculum and a student’s readiness and motivation. Acceleration respects individual differences and acknowledges the fact that some of these differences merit flexibility in educational programming." (Page 4)

"Because of the legitimate questions and concerns surrounding the labeling of students as gifted, Troy 30-C refers to its target population for accelerated services as accelerated learners. We feel the label of high ability places the focus on current accomplishment rather than unintended implications. Based on Sidney Moon’s suggestion, a definition of this target population should reflect the school context (or educational program) where it would be offered and implemented. Keeping this guiding principle in mind, the state of Illinois definition of gifted and talented children, and Gagne's thinking, Troy 30-C defines high ability students as:
Learners who demonstrate the aptitude (or possess the potential) for exceptional mastery of skills and knowledge in any field when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment. High ability is present in learners from all cultural groups and across all economic strata." (Page 6)

"Because of the educational needs and motivation of high ability students, the level, complexity, and pace of the language and/or mathematics curriculum is significantly increased when compared to the core curriculum. Discovering these students adheres to the district goal of identifying all students’ needs and matching them with an appropriate curriculum.
In essence, identification for the accelerated programs is an on-going search for high ability students whose demonstrated competencies in language and/or mathematics would be best served and developed through an accelerative approach to programming. The readiness and motivation for accelerative experiences are indicated through accurate, useful, and available evidence (e.g., standardized testing, classroom performance, teacher observation, and family input.) We believe that we are responsible for providing optimal educational experiences for talents to flourish, and doing so is of benefit to the individual and the community." (Page 6)

"Classroom-Based Differentiation Service is defined as a curricular modification implemented by a classroom teacher to extend and broaden the core curriculum by increasing its depth or breadth. The content (what is learned), the process (how it is learned), and/or the product (demonstration of learning) are altered in this service. Learners are typically identified for the classroom-based differentiation service by the classroom teacher using curriculum-based pre- assessments, formative assessment, and classroom performance. Depending on student need, classroom-based differentiation modifications might be short-term (lasting 1-3 days) or long-term (lasting the duration of a specific unit of study.) The former targets critical or creative thinking and are usually a component of the district’s adopted curriculum resources. The latter compacts the core curriculum and utilizes supplemental instructional materials. Although classroom teachers typically provide this service in a core classroom, collaboration with grade level teams and school staff can occur." (Page 7)

"Accelerated Classes are defined as a curricular modification implemented by a faculty member that is intensive in nature. An out-of-level, rigorous alternative curriculum is primarily used. When compared to the core curriculum, the acceleration service significantly increases the curricular pacing and its complexity. Learners are typically identified for the accelerated service by meeting specified district criteria using standardized test scores, classroom performance, and teacher ratings.
Students in grades 3-4 identified as being eligible for accelerated programming will receive extensive math instruction, reading and writing, and science and social studies through content integration. The structure of this self-contained classroom will follow a multi-age approach including qualifying students at third and fourth grade age appropriateness. The purpose of creating a diverse age classroom community is to provide effective instruction for all students in the program, to enhance the social skills of its participants, and to accelerate cognitive development. In a multiage classroom, the individual needs and characteristics of students are considered a vital element in the design of instruction, which supports accelerating instruction. Students in grades 5-8 identified as being eligible for accelerated programming will receive reading and/or math instruction in pull-out self-contained classes taught by a teacher trained in best practices for teaching accelerated learners.
The philosophy of substituting core curriculum does not mean it is irrelevant for high ability students, but in its current form it is not sufficient to meet the needs of high ability students. In fact, many core curricular concepts are evident in the alternative curriculum. Although there is an emphasis on higher level thinking skills, the importance and maintenance of a strong foundation of basic skills and understanding is addressed."  (Pages 7, 8)

Dr. White is a Data Driven Educational Leader:

Throughout the research we have conducted, one thing is quite clear. Dr. Don White prides himself on making  DATA DRIVEN decisions.  WE COULDN'T BE MORE THRILLED!  What has been sorely lacking in D181 under Dr. Schuster's leadership is accountability for the massive changes that her administration has implemented.  Although members of the board minority -- Heneghan and Garg -- and more recently Nelson, have asked the administration to present data to establish whether or not the Learning for All Plan was successfully implemented in other districts, is being successfully implemented in D181 AND to answer the question of whether or not any of D181's students are being hurt by the Learning for All Plan, no such data presentation has been given.

It is time for the DATA to be gathered, analyzed and publicly presented and discussed.  It is time to shine a spot light on how each "quartile" of D181's students have been impacted by the Learning for All Plan.  It is time for the administration to be held accountable, not only by the Board of Education, but by the superintendent.  We hope Dr. White asks the central administrators who remain -- Schneider, Benaitis and Igoe -- to immediately gather all student performance data -- by quartile, for each grade, and by school -- and do a detailed analysis on the impact of the Learning for All Plan, that he will then in turn, review with the D181 community during a public meeting.

We urge Dr. White to schedule several Town Hall Meetings and conduct a Satisfaction Survey:

Finally, we hope that Dr. White's desire to improve D181 will result in his gathering information from parents, staff and students on topics that directly impact them -- curriculum, facilities, budget.  Despite repeated requests by community members, and the board minority -- Heneghan and Garg -- for Dr. Schuster to conduct a satisfaction survey and hold at least one Town Hall Meeting to allow an open, unfettered, un-orchestrated exchange of ideas, questions and answers between community members, the BOE and the Superintendent, neither has taken place. 

If Dr. White wants to quickly gain the trust and support of parents, teachers and community members who have grown weary, cynical, skeptical and angry under Dr. Schuster's administration, we urge him to conduct a satisfaction survey AND hold a town hall meeting within his first 60 days as our new superintendent.

We look forward to a new dawn, a new sun shining brightly over D181 and we look to Dr. White to lead the district and all of its constituents back into the light.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Bloggers for writing this positive, welcoming post, while at the same time articulating what many of us in the community want to see Dr. White tackle immediately.

As a parent of middle school students and high school students, I believe it is critical that transparency be brought back to D181 and that data be properly gathered and analyzed by qualified, competent central administrators who do so objectively and not with a predetermined outcome in mind.

I too welcome Dr. White. He seems to have the skills required to put our district back on track.

Anonymous said...

If Dr. White is true to his past philosophy of instruction that he used (and revised) during his 7 tenure as Troy 30C's superintendent, I don't see how he can retain Dr. Schneider who is the mastermind (in my opinion) of the Learning for All Plan. The two approaches will not mesh. In my opinion, it is time for Schneider to leave so Dr. White can fix our district.

Anonymous said...

Much appreciation for the efforts of the blog owners to publish evidence of the success Dr. White's planning and leadership. Clearly making decisions based on data and not emotion is not a strength of the current BOE. Hopefully similar efforts will help deliver more of the kind of instruction that has proven effective in the district prior to wrong headed arguments that swayed the BOE.

Speaking of wrong headed -- a rumor from one of my friends in the world of pipe fitters is that the BOE is attempting to switch over to a "dry pipe" fire sprinkler system. Such systems can result in increased response time, much higher rate of failure / clogging, far more expensive "pre-action interlocks", greatly complicated maintenance and LESS SAFETY for occupants. Frankly I am tempted to contact the State Fire Marshall to stop this foolish over-reaction. The leading fire protection authorities recommend against such systems where life safety is paramount. In fact current national code recommends such systems ONLY be used in situations where fire sprinklers are installed in areas where temperatures are EXPECTED to be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Changes made at HMS should ensure that no such spaces exist and efforts to convert the fire sprinkler to a "dry pipe" are thus a ridiculous risk... Maybe my sources are mistaken but given the sorts of prior dunderheaded moves that this BOE has taken, such as authorizing the removal of heat traces at HMS in the previous summer only to spend $160K this year to redo the work nothing would surprise me...

Anonymous said...

I am very pleased to see that Mr. White is familiar with the research and knows that placing children in appropriately leveled groups in school is vital to their growth and success.

I can see the cut off being lower in Troy because those kids haven't had the same exposure to literature, tutors and language that our kids have. They will probably need to raise cut offs here. But of course, the cut offs need to be a bit flexible. I am in shock that children are only expected to perform with 70% success in order to stay in a higher level class. Perhaps their parent wants their child to be in that group, but it is VITAL to consider what is BEST for the child. Why would you want to subject your child to such unnecessary stress and continual mediocrity at such a young age? "Instructional Level" (according to Vygotsky!) is, I believe is around 80% - 92%. This is the optimal level of learning. If kids don't make 80%, then it is way too hard. They need more foundational skills. 70% is too low!! Can't believe we paid for Russell's PhD and he didn't KNOW this!!

Many will argue that the consistent performance of over 80% or more is even more important than entry scores. Those tests can be inflated. A lot of children's (especially boys), brains develop more slowly, yet STILL catch up. Life is not a race. Let our kids enjoy school and learn at their own pace. I know a mom whose child was never identified in elementary school for anything until placement in ACE at HMS. This child went on to become valedictorian at Central.

Anonymous said...

Dear any current or future administrators reading this blog:

PLEASE figure out how to turn the A/C on at the D181 schools. The classrooms were extremely hot today with many red faced uncomfortable kids. Very little learning took place at D181 today. It is 86 degrees.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The central office has air conditioning. It is zoned differently.

Anonymous said...

Why does it not surprise me that the central offices are zoned with A/C while the classrooms of young children are not? These self serving administrators must go! Reminds me of the Korean Ferry captain who put himself before his passengers. What ever happened to children first?